Saturday, November 27, 2010

THE END OF THE SABC OWNING EVERYTHING . . .? Why it could be happening sooner than you think.

You're reading it here first.

Could it change? Possibly. And faster than what we might think. Currently the SABC owns everything it broadcasts (technically 99,5% - there's some super selective exceptions) with stringent commissioning contracts in which local producers basically sign away their intellectual property rights to their productions to the South African public broadcaster. That could soon change.

In an interesting remark missed by the rest of the press, the SABC in its appearance this week before parliament, said that it will relook intellectual property rights - long a stifling issue that actually inhibits growth in the local TV production industry. There might be a bigger incentive for producers to produce programming if they could own it and for instance sell it to various broadcasters with various licensing windows, which isnt currently really the case in South Africa.

The now defunct wannabe satellitel TV operator Telkom Media wanted to upturn the industry with this "new'' model where producers own their content and only sell the rights for which a broadcaster then pays. TopTV as a satellite TV operator and DStv's Mzansi Magic (DStv 107) are also both on record saying they're moving in this direction, which is probably what is adding to impetus to the SABC's sudden lip service of relaxing its grip on owning the content it commission from producers.

''The SABC owns everything,'' Robin Nicholson, the SABC's acting group CEO said this week before parliament's portfolio committee on communications explaining the SABC's current funding model for local productions and the bubble of intellectual property ownership. But look at what he said immediately after that: ''Maybe that has to change. Maybe that has to move towards renting some; sharing some, rather than owning everything.''

This hiddden but actually huge admission is the first overt indication that the South African public broadcaster has seemingly realized that its stranglehold on the local production industry can no longer endure. With more independent players changing and radically starting to alter the local production TV landscape, producers are getting more options and breathing room to shop their content elsewhere. If the SABC does want to try and get or retain the best TV programming as it declared this week, Fawlty Tower's hiherto ivory tower commissioning contracts and terms of intellectual property retention will inevitable be changing to a more open and fair dispensation.